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Many people know about Social Security benefits, and a few may even know that Social Security offers some survivor benefits in certain situations. Knowing survivor benefits exist and knowing who is eligible and when, is important for planning your retirement and getting ready for end-of-life expenses and benefits.

Here is what you need to know about Social Security survivor benefits.

What Are Social Security Survivor Benefits?

Social Security survivor benefits come in two types, monthly benefits which can be paid out under specific circumstances, and one-time payments paid out under other circumstances. One-time payments are usually $255, while monthly benefits are usually determined by what level of Social Security benefit your loved one was receiving at the time of their passing.

Who Qualifies for Social Security Survivor Benefits?

There are a wide range of situations that can determine who is eligible for a Social Security survivor benefit. The exact person or people who can benefit varies depending on the situation, but here’s a general list of people who might be eligible for Social Security survivor benefits.

  • A Spouse: widows and widowers are potentially eligible for survivor benefits depending on the situation and their age. A widow or widower who is between 60 and the age of retirement may be eligible for between 71.5-99% percent of the benefit their spouse would have received. A spouse between 50-59 is eligible for 71.5% of the benefit.
  • Divorced Spouses: the divorced partner of a deceased spouse is also potentially eligible for benefits if there isn’t another spouse or beneficiary. They are entitled to the same level of benefit as a spouse depending on their age and situation.
  • Spouse with a Child: A spouse surviving who is also caring for a child, regardless of the spouse’s age, qualifies for 75% of the benefit unless they qualify for more under other criteria.
  • Children Under 18 or with Qualifying Situations: Children of the deceased may also be eligible for benefits if they are unmarried and under age 18, 19, or younger if they are full-time students, or have a qualifying disability.

Do You Receive Social Security Survivor Benefits Automatically?

No, in most cases you will not receive survivor benefits automatically. You’ll need to apply for benefits, and the Social Security survivor benefit cannot be applied for online. After the funeral home or other institution has reported the death, you will need to contact the Social Security office to apply and start the process to see if you qualify for benefits.

Are Survivor Benefits Retroactive?

No, Social Security survivor benefits aren’t always retroactive for any missed payments. It’s important to apply for the benefit as quickly as possible if you think you might qualify so you can get payments as soon as possible.

What Do You Need to Apply?

To apply for Social Security survivor benefits you need to have a few documents to prove your claim. You may be asked for additional documents depending on the situation, but here’s what you’ll need to start with:

  • The deceased’s benefits information
  • Spouse or divorced spouse’s Social Security benefit information
  • Parental Benefit (for surviving parents of children 16 years or younger)
  • Parent’s Benefits information (for parents dependent on a deceased child)
  • Social Security numbers for all parties
  • Certificate of Death (if not already reported)

Having these documents on hand will help streamline your application and help you get benefits much faster. Even if you don’t have all the documents you need, don’t delay in applying for the benefits.

If you aren’t sure whether you qualify for Social Security survivor benefits, or need help in applying, visit or call 1-800-772-1213.     

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